Sunday, August 12, 2012

Nautilus Extra Pane Removal: Myth Busting

Since I announced the birth and the growing-up of Nautilus' extra pane in this blog I guess it's only fair to also mention this feature's silent death here.

There's been a lot of vandalism happening in the repository lately, and unfortunately, the extra pane was one of the victims. But it's in good company, joining type-ahead selection, compact-mode, and the tree sidebar into nirvana.

All these removals came somewhat as a surprise to me, as they seem to directly oppose Nautilus' mission statement. So I guess this has been superseded. Too bad that this wasn't communicated - people would have been less surprised.

So, let's have a critical look at the reasoning for the removal of the extra pane.

Starting with the bug report:

Extra Pane mode was somewhat useful before GNOME 3 had side by side window mode.
Fun fact: That's the first time that I hear a GNOME designer call it "somewhat useful". Usually, the reaction was WE ALL HATE IT (capitals are theirs, I left the double-underline out). Anyways, historically, the extra pane was introduced because of GNOME 3 (see linked mission statement above), not despite of it. Nautilus wanted to make the move from a document launcher to a file manager, because of the GNOME Shell taking over the launcher part. Now, I am not sure where it's moving. File management isn't the focus anymore for sure, looking at all removals combined. It seems the focus is to look pretty. For all those users who start Nautilus to lay back and enjoy its look, as opposed to getting work done. I wonder how many of those exist, outside of the designer world.

That brings us to the most stated reason for the removal of the extra pane: The claim that it has become obsolete due to window snapping. That is just factually wrong.

The main point of the extra pane is to have a default target for file operations. Many operations work on files in two distinct locations: Copy or move files from folder A to folder B. Or from a remote location to the local computer. Or from a USB stick into the document folder. The extra pane introduces this concept of "that other location". So it's possible to get the job done with a single menu item. Or even with a single shortcut key (functionality that was also removed but that I was allowed to bring back).

This inherent connection is the feature that the extra pane offers. It's really a lot different to displaying two random windows side-by-side. That snapping looks somewhat similar doesn't make it a replacement for the feature.

Let me give another example. The inherent connection between the two panes is also available from inside Nautilus Scripts. A have a script that just "diff's the right thing", be it two files in a directory, two files in different directories, or two directories. The script is trivial. With a shortcut assigned to it, these little things help me work. A lot.

Only after somebody showed me this "one key press diff the right thing" feature with window snapping, similarly easy to do and to set up, can he argue that window snapping obsoletes the extra pane.¹

The visual side-by-side display of extra pane is just a nice added bonus to the feature. But even visually it's way better than window snapping:
  • It doesn't need to be full screen. Last time I checked, GNOME was also supposed to be used on desktops - many of which have big screens nowadays.
  • It's easy to get that view, and to get rid of it again. One menu item or button press, instead of mouse placement origies.
  • It has less visual clutter. No double sidebar, no double menu, and so on
  • It's easier to see which pane is selected (actions are applied to the pane that isn't greyed out, genius)
Some of these side-aspects can be taken care of. By horrible hacks, though. Or by removing yet more features. If nothing is left, nothing is duplicated.

C'mon, if you want to argue against the extra pane, you can do better. I mean, if you're on a mission, I'm sure you can think of some more convincing arguments. Let's see...
The combination of panes and tabs is just too much.
And then you decide to move the feature that cannot be handled by window managers into the window manager, and leave the feature that could inside Nautilus? Interesting. In a weird way.
It is inconsistent with the file chooser
In what way? That the file chooser cannot open two panes? Sure, that's because it's a file chooser, not a file manager. By the way, Nautilus has a few features left that the file chooser cannot do either. Like copying and moving files. Or renaming. I see a bright future for Nautilus after you've made it consistent with the file chooser. Or, as has been written in eloquent newspeak: When Nautilus receives yet more "love".

and doesn't work well with touch.
What's wrong with it? And why will window snapping be better? I think it's actually easier to action a menu item than to start and drag-and-drop two windows to snap.

Do you guys actually realize that your whole reasoning consists of either false or unelaborated claims?
We would like to add a more explicit copy/move feature shortly.
I doubt you can introduce the "default target" functionality otherwise in a clearer way. And - even if you could - here's a wild idea: Strip the features out after you have a replacement. Not before.

That's basically it for the bug report and commit msg. But the blog post that I linked to before has more:
The first reason was that it was undiscoverable.
What a reason. Make it more discoverable, then? I thought you were a designer?! Of course, that would mean that you're not on a mission.
this one also stood in the way of providing a better alternative
What alternative? How did it stand in the way? Don't be so fuzzy - where is the beef?
Even if you never used the Extra Pane you always had useless Move To and Copy To items in the menus.
In fact, having these menu items always displayed was a review comment, because that's supposed to be the GNOME way. The original patch only showed them when an extra pane was open. Now, this is brought up as a reason to remove the feature? Funky.
Should we keep the feature for which we have a new and better alternative in Nautilus
We don't have that! I explained it numerous times, but my comments have always been ignored. Provided that you read comments on your own bug reports, you actually know better. Which leaves an ugly after-taste.

I'll leave the side-by-side snapping out, becaues I've covered it already. Which brings me to
and a pile of bugs getting no attention in bugzilla
Now, this is the point that really makes me furious, and that probably makes my mails and posts more explicit than they otherwise would be. The design team has always been badmouthing my work on that feature. It started with "extra pain", claimed that it was "messy code", that "files vanish".² Now, they claim that we had oh-so-many bugs (but of course secret ones, which they won't tell you about).

Of course, I asked dozens of times what's so messy about it. I love being reviewed. Receiving and doing reviews is one of the best ways to learn and advance. However, I never, ever, got an answer.

Which turns the statements from criticism into slander. Disgusting behavior.

Of course, these claims spread over the web, where you can now read all day long that the feature was removed because it was oh-so-buggy and an oh-so-bad hack on top of Nautilus instead of making it properly, and so on.

That's just not true. The extra pane patch (which consisted of about 2000 lines, by the way - for a quick hack I would probably have needed 10 or so) introduced some architectural changes that make sense even if you don't want to have the extra pane. In fact, it would have been smart to keep those, even if the feature was to be removed.

I think I've covered all of the argumentation brought up so far that led to the removal of the extra pane in Nautilus. Not a single item with substance.

1 Fun fact: I like window snapping, too. Actually, I even had a locally patched Metacity on my machine that did snapping somewhere in the middle of GNOME 2 already. It's cool to have Evince and a LaTeX editor open side-by-side, for example. If snapping could have replaced the extra pane, I would have cleaned up that patch and submitted it, instead of putting lots of effort in the extra pane. But I didn't, because snapping cannot replace it.

Edit: When hearing about the "files vanish" part, naturally, I got a bit nervous, and immediately tried to find out what that statement was about. Turned out that there was no data loss, in fact no bug. And the reaction on my inquiry was a huffy note along the lines of "can't we talk without filing bugs?", followed by "what a crappy comment". D'oh.


  1. I think you are right, I wanted extra pane for a long time since it wasn't available (long time ago) even tried the "unholy" nautilus hacked back then, when I got the feature I was really happy and used it a lot for file operations. The way Nautilus is going is somehow not good on my opinion, they are not listening to users (same error gnome project is or was making) and it is making me consider changing to alternatives, and that is something I don't like, I have used gnome and Nautilus since 2004 and they were the best and now... even Ubuntu is forking nautilus to have those features back. I don't know why the nautilus developers always hated the feature, it's not like that would break the software or anything and if you don't like it just don't use it, it's not opened by default (it should be IMHO). I have seen over the years features go like the info panel, tree panel, notes panel etc. and things like this, I mean, i hate the bluetooth integration, I have bluetooth devices but I don't like the feature, consumes energy, processing time, ram and it's the most insecure wireless technology (that is a fact, not an opinion) but there are those features there and I'm not complaining, I just don't use it and turn int off when I can't uninstall it. Main point, keep up the good work man, I think this is a most have feature and if they don't see it, well, then people will start bailing from nautilus, you should consider fork the project, even if it will be a slow development it will be better without the decisions made because "it looks pretty"

  2. Being command line interface oriented I never was a great nautilus user, but the extra pane is one of the few features I use often at work.

    The completely unreasoned removal of this feature it's only another stone paving the road of GNOME to oblivion.

    In the end I hope they, in a final act of self-consistency and towards complete purity, remove themselves from the desktop arena and leave room for some usable projects. The perfect GNOME seems to be the void one, so be it.

  3. If the direction Nautilus is moving to is not yours, why not switch to eg Nemo? The Nemo crew seems to be more open for developers and features.

    1. I tried Nemo yesterday. Doesnt yet work for me. I use Nautilus a lot to connect to another machine via ssh and move files visually. This is so convenient. Of course it'd be possible using two Nautilus windows, but then I'd have to re-position windows again and again. Connecting with one click and hitting F3 is way better. Occasionally I would open a terminal from the context menu, locally (gvfs) or directly on the other machine. Very usefull to have both options! And that's where Nemo doesn't work. It offers those things in it's context menu but then just a terminal for my homedir.

  4. For the record, extra pane is one of the elements of Nautilus I use the most, precisely because it's more helpful for moving files around than tabs or a second window.

    Thank you for your efforts in keeping it out there. I hope the GNOME devs start paying heed to your arguments for retaining it.

  5. If anyone ever has an argument against dual-pane file managers, that person has never used one. Benefits far outweigh cons. That feeling must be terrible, that some people decided we want even more brainless desktop than it already is and killed features you worked hard for... not to mention maintained.

    One of the reasons I started making my own dual-pane file manage was exactly the lack of options like these in Gnome. :/

  6. Extra Pane was one of the best Nautilus features. I was shocked when I found out about its removal. The Ubuntu team is keeping the old version as the default one for the next release (, but then I'll probably have to switch to something else. Sorry that you good work has been removed for no sensible reason.

  7. You photo is internet gold, ^

    Too bad Nautilus didn't decide to make a logical move and create addons like Firefox - that's about the only way they could regain their lost glory in my eyes.

  8. Heh, I thought of you when I read that GNOME were removing that feature you were so happy to have upstreamed a few years ago, but I had no time to read your blog at the time.

    This is indeed painful.

    BTW, did I mention we're going to remove NNTP and crypto plugins from Claws-Mail ? They're obscure stuff that no one understands and it gets in the way of other stuff that is going to rock when we implement it !

  9. As a Nautilus user I'm fine with the removal of this feature. I understand it sucks for you since you worked hard to implement it, but such is the nature of software development.

    I think having a desktop wide side-by-side mode that works with any two windows you might need is a more elegant and discoverable design. If you're on a big display where window snapping is overkill then why not just place two windows side by side? I do that all the time at work (1080p), while I use window snapping a lot on my netbook (720p).

    1. nice job in reading and understanding what hb said....

      did you just read the first 3 lines and commented? :)

    2. ... yes using 2 windows like windows users do!!

  10. Thanks for posting this first-person perspective. I love the two-pane feature and I also heard the window-snapping argument via the Gnome mailing list or somewhere. Anybody that uses either feature knows that claiming the two are redundant with each other is comical. But even that isn't as ridiculous as referring to using the file manager window full-screen/half-screen which is the only way the window-snapping option will work. That is ridiculous.

    I think it could be _closer_ if windows in Gnome could snap to eachother.... but even that is much more complex than the dual-pane mode.

  11. @Anonymous: You fail to address any of the points raised in the article. Did you actually read it?

  12. @Colin: Yeah, don't forget about IMAP and POP3! Gee, Claws Mail will be really slick without all that receiving cruft. Simply beautiful. And we'll have made enough space to finally implement a really nice HTML Editor! So that our users can spread out even more beauty over the globe.

  13. @hb, yes, I just don't like to pick up apart posts line by line to reply to them. I just wanted to get my general thought across.

    Creating a new window might always be slightly slower than simply creating a new pane. But that's one way that works with every application, consistently. That was my point. The fact that some features currently only work between panes and not windows is something that could be addressed in the new design (by implementing those features). Although I certainly understand you have no desire to work on that.

    Also worth noting that some new GNOME 3 features address some of the issues you have with the window-by-window method, such as a theme for unfocused windows that makes it clear which one is the active one, and a much more compact application chrome is being used in Nautilus 3.6, with no menubar and more compact and sutil toolbar and sidebar.

    For the record I think if William JonMcCann was smarter he wouldn't drop this feature at this time. They should first add all the stuff they want, make people love it and then remove "obsoleted features" in a future version. It'd be smarter PR and community management, but designers often get stuck in a black and white universe and they want to fix the world by gutting it.

  14. In a sad way I'm glad to see the GNOME team clarifying their position. Rather than leave us in limbo, wondering if Gnome 3 is really the time to let go and bid a fond farewell, they're flipping the collective bird at anybody who gives a rat's ass about usability. Luckily the KDE project is back on track and actually slick these days on my way-overpowered desktop.

    "Take the worst from OSX, the worst from Windows, and leave the chains of success far, far behind." -- new Gnome3 creed

  15. @Anonymous:In wise forethought, I already covered the "not much is duplicated, since all the things don't exist anymore" in the article. And I don't really want to go in detail in all the other aweful feature removals. In any case, a few things are still left, and thus duplicated. Like the rather big side bar. And now don't tell a fix for that can also be "implemented" by putting other random application logic into the window manager (or even worse, window management logic into the application). Also, there is none of the claimed consistency or usability with random applications if you want to go down that road - blowing up the window manager will result in the exact opposite.

    To be fair, I haven't heard that kind of wild ideas from GNOME designers (yet). Which, in turn, renders the "but we have a better replacement" claim even more void.

    As pointed out above: Window snapping is cool. It's nice for having a Evince open besides a LaTeX editor. Or Devhelp besides a code editor. Or many other things. But it's not a usable replacement for file management. It's just a different feature.

  16. @hb your code can be taken into Cinnamon and probably the guys at canonical will use it if they ever fork nautilus.

    I've really tried to stick with Gnome3 after the initial disaster it created on my every-day-life with my computer (I use it to work... you know).

    Now it's time I move on and look for something else... little sad to abandon gnome after years¹.

    They say they know how to do things better and they'll do it..

    Well.. I'll wait for that time and come see if they actually did.

    The key of all your post is in this sentence:

    "Do you guys actually realize that your whole reasoning consists of either false or unelaborated claims?"

    And when you try to talk with them you are attacked being made fun of.
    That's the kind of attitude that is able to bring on little mistakes into becoming disasters.

    There was a time where Linux Desktop meant Gnome or KDE.

    That time is past, now it's KDE or "a really big mess that confuse users".

    Thanks for the Split view and for your post.

    ¹) I really do not know where to move on.. I use gentoo and debian and neither has easy-to-install cinnamon / unity package; I've never felt easy on KDE and found enlightment and Xfce too minimalistic.

  17. The mentioned usecases copy/move file from A to B can be done with tab in the same way:
    - Navigate to A
    - Select the files
    - Ctrl-C
    - Ctrl-T (instead of F3)
    - Navigate to B
    - Ctrl-V

    So what is the advantage of extra pane?

    1. > So what is the advantage of extra pane?

      If you read the blog post, you'll know.

    2. are you really asking the question?
      4 keyboards uses VS 2 mouse clicks..
      clearly an advantage..

  18. Damn, after many years of using Nautilus, I've only discovered the Extra Pane goodness a couple of days ago (after pressing F3 by accident instead of F2). I was like "WHoA AwsoME! I'm gonna show this to everybody in the house!" And now this.
    I feel your pain Holger, but what can one do?
    Me, I just won't be upgrading Nautilus for a while.
    Hopefully, in a few months we'll be able browse to and switch on the Extra Pane from there :)

    1. Hopefully, in a few months we'll be able browse to and switch on the Extra Pane from there :)

      Unlikely, because not only the UI of the extra pane has been removed, but also its architecture. Unfortunately, my request to keep it (in order to allow adding the extra pane as an extension) has been ignored.

  19. @hb, i was very sorry to see the split pane removed, it was my favorite feature. i spent months using it every day and never saw a single bug.

    keep up the good work!

  20. so.. i wanted to fork nautilus to still use the dual panes and also i want to have them enabled by default instead of always pressing F3 everytime..

    you wouldn't happen to know at what hash i can git checkout from perhaps ?

    1. Personally, I found the last usable version to be around

  21. Guten Morgen Herr Berndt;
    ich betreibe Gnome 2.3.1 unter PC_BSD (bin sehr zufrieden!)- und möchte Sie fragen ob es eine Möglichkeit gibt nautilus immer in der "dual pane" Ansicht zu starten?
    aus dem verschneiten Solingen
    Dietrich W.

    1. Nein, nicht nativ. Einige Leute haben sich etwas mit xdotool gebastelt.

  22. I just wanted to say that I love the Extra Pane feature and have never had a problem with it. In fact, once I used it once, I couldn't survive without it. Removal of the feature was stupid, and the excuses for doing so were outright insane. It's supposed to be getting MORE useful, not LESS.

  23. Nautilus irritated me before the split pane feature was introduced, and I can't believe we are regressing from it.

    As you say, if they plan to have equivalent functionality in the future they should keep it until that functionality is ready.

    Also, what sort of argument is it to say that it doesn't sit well with the touch interface?!! - The overwhelming majority use a mouse/touchpad where split pane is fast (far easier than snapping windows).

    Grrr. They should have just started a new project.

  24. Nick Sharp

    As the first thing I ever do after loading a new version of Ubuntu is use nauti ... excuse me, files with extra pane to transfer my old home files into the new file system, I was disappointed with 13.04 beta2 within seconds, so have decided to stay on 12.04 for AGES (it is an LTS after all, and - promised - more L than any previous).
    files - extra pane = + extra pain
    Messing about for no seemingly good reason as far as the USER is concerned.

    1. Oh, and unless I am mistaken (as I said, I have given up 13.04 for now), hasn't the tree feature gone from the main window as well as the side bar? I use that every day when filing into a hierarchy: open the main folder, then click the triangle next to a sub-folder to see the contents, possibly a sub-sub-folder.

      Yeh, I KNOW all that CAN be done with multiple carefully sized and arranged windows, but oh yuk!

      Nick Sharp

    2. Tree View nowadays has to be enabled in Preferences -> Display (checkbox at the bottom).
      I read somewhere that it was indeed removed, but then brought back shortly after.
      Funny gnome guys, too much drugs...

  25. The best feature Nautilus ever added was the extra pane. I have just upgraded to Fedora 18 and am SORELY missing the F3 key!!!

    Is there ANY way to get it back?

    1. Not with Nautilus, no. You can switch to Nemo, or another file manager.

  26. I miss the extra pane and want it back, even with other extra alternatives.

  27. I was searching badly for a file diff plugin for nautilus. Then I found the extra pane and fall in love with it. Who is that a*****e who removed my extra pane?

  28. Forgot to say you a BIG THANKS for the link to this diff script (

  29. Thanks for fighting the good fight. In retrospect, the changes to Nautilis are more indefensible than ever. I've yet to ever see a touch enabled Linux computer even once, and with the proliferation and general quality of Android tablets gearing desktop linux towards this market seems more and more wrongheaded.

    Hide the features, make them optional, clean up the GUI, fine. But letting f3 split panes isn't hurting any newbies, and it's a key feature for anyone intermediate or above. All of their other removals, too, were unnecessary and bad ideas.

    Oh well, after 20 minutes of fucking around I stumbled on Nemo, and I'm happy for the time being. Only sad that Gnome jumped the shark so badly, at least KDE has gotten its ship together by now.

    It's too bad, Gnome3 has some really exciting ideas, it's too bad they had to destroy it in trying to realize them.

  30. Holger you speak for many, thanks for your efforts over the years. Such a wasted opportunity and a display of immense short-sightedness, even arrogance by the gnome developers. Non-developers.

  31. Yes, I had to abandon Nautilus when dual pane was dropped and still haven't found a replacement that I'm happy with. I wish Nautilus Elementary was still being developed or that Nemo were more refined. Thank you for your work!

  32. Do the designers really do a lot of work with Linux system? Because if they do, they will quickly find it a elegant and extreme helpful to have a feature of "extra pane".

    I find this post because I am searching "nautilus extra pane parallel horizontally". Yes, I need them to be horizontally in the desktop, since I have terminals in the right side.

    Now I get shocked by the fact that they abandoned this baby with the bath water.

  33. Gnome sucks.
    I use nautilus in fluxbox, where everything is much, much more betterer.
    Now can i get my extra pane back?

  34. +1 for extra pane